Tag Archive | Bruce Van Winkle

Hannah – Chapter 39 – Second Chance

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Teasha retreated to the back porch. She just needed a moment to herself. Her timid, over emotional twin brother was engaged. He was a few short months from becoming parents of twin daughters of his own and getting married. She should be happy for him. She wiped at an annoying tear that rolled down her cheek.

“Sweetie” Bruce’s voice called to her from the open door leading into the kitchen. “What are you doing here by yourself?”

“I needed some fresh air” she sniffed hurriedly drying the wetness from her cheeks.

“It’s difficult isn’t it?” he said quietly coming up beside her “watching your brother be so in love and happy.”

Her face crumpled, bottom lip quivering “it’s not fair” she cried as she felt him pull her close “all my friends are engaged. I can’t get away from it. I want to be happy for them but I can’t.”

“It’s going to be alright” he rubbed her back in slow rhythmic circles “your day will come.”

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“When?” she demanded her voice muffled from her face being buried in his chest.

“When the time is right” Bruce sighed “I wish I could tell you when sweetheart. I simply don’t know. It could be tomorrow. Next year. Ten years from now.”

“That’s not helping” she laughed a little despite herself “would it be alright if I leave tomorrow for school?”

Pulling her close he placed a soft kiss on her forehead “if that’s what you think you need to do than yes. I wish you’d stay but I’m just your old man. What do I know?”

“Daddy I love you” she leaned in close placing a kiss on his stubbly cheek.

“I love you to sweetheart” he squeezed her tight “I know how it feels to have your world crumble beneath your feet. If you need someone to talk to I’m your guy.”

 

She gave him a curious look “didn’t you and Dad just fall hopelessly and madly in love from the moment you met?”

“I wish that were true” his eyes took on a far away look “when I met your dad I was the rebound guy. I was madly in love with him trying desperately not to show it.”

“Were you afraid he’d break our heart or something?” she asked as she toyed with her shirt.

“I guess in a way I was. He had been hurt by someone who hadn’t realized how much Ramsey cared about him. I was convenient. It didn’t work out.” He tweaked her nose playfully “sometimes magic happens the second time around.”

“Thank you daddy” she hugged him tight before leaving to go inside.

Bruce followed her inside, watching as she congratulated her brother and Waylon then moved to her dad. Ramsey gave him a startled look when she released him from the fierce grip she had around his neck.

 

“What have you been telling our daughter?” Ramsey asked a moment later coming along his side.

“Nothing much” he shrugged “just that sometimes happy endings sometimes required second chances.”

Ramsey snorted “she told me I better appreciate the second chance I had been given.” He pulled his husband close whispering softly in his ear “and I do.” He peered deeply into Bruce’s light blue eyes. The same blue eyes the majority of their five children had “I love you more and more with each passing day.”

Bruce gave him an impish grin “I love you more.” His eyes twinkled daring him to reply in kind.

Instead Ramsey pulled him closer, pressing his lips hard over his. Bruce’s lips yielded to his, their desire building as their bodies pressed hard against each others and their kiss deepened. “Let’s take this upstairs” Ramsey panted breaking the kiss. Without a word Bruce slipped his hand into his husbands following him the stairs.

***

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Teasha stared up at the dorm. It wasn’t going to be the same this year. All of her friends had coupled up. Her brother wouldn’t be here at all. She gave herself a little mental shake as a wave loneliness swamped her. She refused to believe she was petty enough to be jealous of someone else’s happiness. She couldn’t help but feel left out and left behind by everyone else.

She rubbed her hands up and down her arms. Shivering despite the warm breeze. She took a hesitant step forward when someone called her name. Stopping she looked around for the source. Frowning when she found who it was calling her name.

Her heart rose into her throat threatening to choke her. Indecision kept her rooted to the sidewalk while her thoughts raced through her head. Could she pretend not to have heard and hurry inside? With a sigh she turned with leaden feet to greet the individual calling her name. She hoped they weren’t in the same dorm. If they were all hopes of being able to avoid them would be gone. Swallowing she cleared her throat “hi Phoenix.” In vain she tried to keep her voice carefully neutral, devoid of all emotion.

Dispassionately she watched him maneuver his wheelchair along the sidewalk coming towards her.

He stopped a few feet from her. “I uh” he licked his dry lips as if he were nervous “I wanted to apologize for the way I acted when you came to see me at the hospital.”
She looked down at him anger flashing in her eyes. “Ok” she said expectantly.

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“Ok what?” he asked confused.

“Ok you can apologize” she crossed her arms waiting.

“Didn’t I just do that?” his brows knitted together.

“No” she shook her head “you said you wanted to apologize.” She tapped her foot on the sidewalk “so apologize.”

“You’re not going to make this easy are you?” he mumbled watching her intently.

“Should I?” she demanded “you told me to leave. That you didn’t want to see me. You made me feel like I was nothing.” A stray tear betrayed her forced facade of impassiveness.

“I’m sorry” he cried reaching his hands out to her “from the bottom of my heart I’m sorry.” He looked relieved and a little stunned when she took his hands instead of letting them dangle in mid-air.

“All I could think about was seeing you again” she blinked trying to hold back the tears she felt building behind her eyes. “I waited for weeks for any news of how you were. I wanted to be by your side the moment they found you.”

“Only to have me reject you” his voice full of regret “I am sorry.” He squeezed her hands tugging on them pulling her closer. “When I saw you. I thought I was dreaming. I realized then what an idiot i was for breaking up with you.”

“Why did you?” she asked “I would have waited for you. I would have supported you. Gone anywhere with you. Why did you not give me the chance to show you I would? Why did you let you mom and brother convince you otherwise?”

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“I was afraid” he looked shocked at his admission “I didn’t want you to turn into my mother, old and bitter before your time.”

“I’m not your mother” she told him kneeling in front of his chair “I know what it means to be the one waiting at home safe and sound while someone you love is in life and death situations. I’ve watched my parents do it each time Dad was called out on an emergency. The weeks he would be gone fighting wild fires. I watched daddy pace the floor worrying about him. Not once did I ever hear him complain about the time they were apart. Daddy always made sure when Dad was home he knew he was loved and missed.” Taking her hands she caressed his face “I could have been that for you. I wanted to be that for you.”

It was his turn to blink back tears. “I’m sorry I didn’t give you the chance. I thought I everyone would be like what I remembered my mom being like when I was growing up. I didn’t want that for you.” He glanced down at hands in his lap “you deserve so much more than I could ever offer you.”

“Who said I wanted more than you could offer?” she asked softly brushing his tears away.

He shrugged “I did. I should have talked things out with you.” His face crumpled in sadness “now it’s too late.”

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“You’re doing it again” she stood up her voice angry.

“Doing what?” he asked watching her.

“Assuming things” she crossed her arms glaring down at him.

“Look at me” he cried waving a self-deprecating hand at his legs “I’m in a wheelchair. I can’t walk. I can’t ask anyone to take on that burden.”

“You know what? You are an idiot” she whirled around and walked into the dorm without a second look back.

***

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Over the next few weeks she observed how others treated Phoenix in the course of the day. A few were cruel enough to purposefully do things to make it impossible for him to do things on his own without asking for help like moving things just far enough out of reach. Others would pretend he wasn’t there. Ignoring him every chance they had.

The worst, in her opinion, were the one who did things for him out of pity. It infuriated her to see them congratulating themselves on doing a good deed for someone less fortunate than them. He didn’t need pity. He needed friends. Someone who cared for him. Who would do things because they wanted to not because it made them look good.

There was a one girl who was a little to friendly, maybe even a flirtatious. It made Teasha’s skin crawl whenever she saw the girl slinking around the dorm. One evening Vincent looked up from the table where they were studying. He nodded towards the girl he whispered to Teasha “he should be careful.”

“What?” she asked blinking looking around “why?”

“That’s one of the girls who stole my wallet last semester after they got me drunk” Vincent explained.

“Are you sure?” she asked watching the girl “I thought you said they were blonde.”

“She was blonde” he shrugged “nothing says she couldn’t have changed her hair color.”

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Nodding Teasha stood up no longer listening. Walking over to Phoenix she asked “are you still looking for a tutor?”

Dragging his eyes from the pretty brunette Phoenix nodded smiling up at Teasha. “Yes I still need one.”

“Good” she smiled over at the girl “I’m available anytime you are.”

His mouth dropped open “you” he stammered “you want to be my tutor?”

“Sure why not?” she shrugged “I don’t have anything else to do.”

“Nixie” the girl whined ” why didn’t you tell me you needed a tutor? I would have been glad to help you.” She moved to sit seductively in his lap. Her hands slipping behind him.

Leaning over so that she was sure the girl would be able to hear her. “Take his wallet and I’ll break your arm” Teasha held the girls gaze until she wriggled off of Phoenix’s lap.

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“I never” she cried in a huff and stomped off her heels beating a hasty retreat.

“Feeling for his wallet Phoenix looked up at Teasha “how did you know?”

“She got a good friend of mine drunk last semester and stole his wallet” she shrugged as if to say it wasn’t anything. “It was just a guess she hadn’t changed her ways.”

“Thank you” he murmured preparing to leave.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“I thought…” he glanced up at her with a sheepish grin “nowhere I guess.”

“Good because I was serious about accepting the tutoring position.” She sat down in a nearby chair. “So what do you need the most help in?”

***

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Over the next few weeks Teasha grew to look forward to the times she could spend with Phoenix. At first it was focused on studying eventually as they both relaxed they learned to enjoy their time together. Closing her book she looked over at him. “Would you like to go for a walk?”

“Yeah I’d like that” he gave her one of his rare sweet smiles.

“I’ll even let you carry my books” she laughed handing him her book bag.

Balancing it on his lap he mumbled “I can’t hold all of this and operate my chair.”

“Tonight I’m driving” she giggled getting behind him and pushing.

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“I demand you take a breathalyzer test” he grumbled “you’re driving like a drunk.”

“Am not” she protested laughing as she zigzagged across the sidewalk “I’m just not good at direction.”

“Where are we going?” he asked deciding to just let her do her thing.

“The park” she grunted trying to push his chair over a curb “this isn’t as easy as it looks.”

“How do you think I got these impressive guns?” he flexed his arms showing off his muscles.

“When we go back to the car” she panted “you can give me a ride. We’ll see how impressive those guns are then.”

“Prepare yourself to be amazed” he laughed.

“She came to a stop inside the small park. She looked around for a free bench before resigning herself to sitting on the ground.

“Not there” he grabbed her hand “there’s plenty of room right here.”

Putting the book bags on the back of the wheelchair she glanced into his eyes. “Are you sure?” she asked.

 

“Yeah I’m sure” he grabbed her wrist pulling her to him.

Giggling she halfheartedly struggled to get away. His face was mere inches from hers. His warm breath blew across her skin sending shivers down her spine. She stared into his eyes as he brought his mouth to hers. His lips brushed across hers in a light feathery kiss.

Pulling back his eyes showing shock as he mumbled “sorry.”

“Do it again” she requested putting her arms around his neck.

He gave her a small sweet smile before tentatively meeting her lips in a kiss that grew more passionate making their hearts hammer against their chests. Pulling away “I wish…I…”

 

“I love you” she smiled at him “I’ve loved you for months. I wanted to pretend that I didn’t. The more I pretended I didn’t have feelings for you the more mixed up I felt. I don’t want to pretend anymore. I love you.”

He gazed into her eyes “what about my handicap?”

Tapping his forehead she gave him a gentle smile. “The only handicap is the one inside your own mind. The wheelchair isn’t who you are. It certainly isn’t the reason I love you. I love you for you. Always have. Always will. With or without the wheels.”

Resting his forehead on hers he breathed deeply “you’re amazing. A gift I don’t deserve.” He gazed into her crystal blue eyes “how did I get so lucky?”

“Don’t question it. That’s how we got in trouble the first time” she kissed his nose ” just accept the second chance we have and we might get our happy ending.”

Chapter 38 – The Truth Comes Out / Chapter 1 – Honeymoon’s End

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Hannah – Chapter 31 – Harsh Realities

Leaving Zach’s room Teasha went to the back porch. She stared into the darkening sky. It scared her to think of a world without her brother in it. She realized now he should have been in therapy a long time ago. When all of this started probably. He had been so fragile then. No one wanted to push the issue. Now if they wanted him to survive they had to push him. A tear rolled down her cheek. The last couple of months had been almost impossible to get through.

Worry for her brother. Concern for Phoenix. Coupled with the nagging suspicion Zach had done something really terrible. Dexter had gone missing the night he confronted Zach. What had happened between them? Had Dexter forced himself on Zach? Had Zach hurt him while he was fighting back? The police had questioned all of them before they left university. They came here to question Zach. So far they had made no arrests but the nagging thoughts persisted. She groaned audibly squeezing he eyes shut. She hated herself for even thinking Zach could be capable of hurting anyone.

The door opened behind her. She turned to face whoever it was who had come outside to join her. “Sweetie” Ramsey said his voice unusually gentle “you talked to Zach.” It was a probing inquiry. A hopeful request she could enlighten him as to what was going on inside his son’s head.

“I think he might be pregnant” she confided in him.

“Waylon’s or that….” Ramsey grimaced unable to say the other boy’s name “I’ll kill him.”

“I don’t know” she said deciding to be honest “it might be Zach’s way of making the situation more tolerable if he believes the baby is Waylon’s.”

“In other words he had sex with Waylon after whatever happened with….” he fell silent, hands balling into fists imagining what he’d do if Dexter were suddenly in front of him. “We can always do a paternity test” he conceded through clenched teeth.

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“Zach won’t like that” she pointed out “Waylon will no doubt back him up.”

“So what is this Waylon guy like?” Ramsey asked.

“He’s a good guy” Teasha smiled as she recalled how he would walk Zach to and from class. “He seems to understand Zach” she leaned her head to the side “it’s almost like he knows what it’s like to be hurt.”

Ramsey nodded looking out across the night sky “if he’s such a good guy why did they break up?”

“I wish I knew” she said quietly. She stepped forward hugging her dad “I’ll try to get Zach to open up more. You know how he is. He holds everything inside until he explodes.”

He snorted in response “we’ll all continue to try.” He brushed her hair from her face. He gave her a reassuring smile “we won’t let anything happen to him. I promise we’ll get through this.”

She nodded giving him a kiss on the cheek “I know dad.” She smiled before moving to go back inside the house. Leaving him to stare out into the growing darkness.

***

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She closed the door behind her. She expected to find the triplets watching some boring show on TV or playing video games. Instead Bruce was standing waiting expectantly for her. His light blue eyes reflected his worry. “If you’re looking for dad he’s outside” she offered feeling uncomfortable under his steady gaze.

“Thank you” he acknowledged making no move to join Ramsey outside.

“Is something wrong?” she asked becoming more certain something was up the longer they stood staring at each other.

He took a step forward engulfing her in his strong arms. “Sweetie I’m so so sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” she demanded her voice rising “what’s going on?”

Taking her hands he led her to the couch. When they were seated he said “I received a call from my Aunt…..”

“The one with contacts in the military” Teasha asked feeling her pulse quicken. “Did they find him? Is he alight? Please daddy I need to know.”

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“His plane was found” Bruce confirmed “a couple of weeks ago.”

“He’s dead isn’t he?” she started to shake.

“They found him….alive” he watched her as she soaked in his words.

“Alive? He’s alive” she sniffed as fresh tears and shock swept through her. “Where is he?” she grabbed his arm clinging to him like he was her life-preserver.

“He’s in pretty bad shape” Bruce explained “he was injured from the crash, lost at sea with little to no food and water, no medical attention….” he sighed watching as the hope drained in her eyes “it’s a miracle he’s lived this long.”

“But he is….alive” she squeezed his arm.

“Yes he’s alive” he affirmed.

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“I have to go to him” she jumped to her feet heading towards her room.

“Teasha wait” Bruce called after her to no avail. He followed her into her room. Stood watching as she pulled out her suitcase and began filling it. “Honey slow down a minute. You can’t just leave.”

“Why not?” she demanded “you would leave if it were one of us or dad.”

“I would” he nodded “Phoenix can’t have visitors yet and even if he could you’re not married.”

“I love him daddy” she asserted undeterred by his comments.

“I know you do” he walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her. “My point is they won’t let you see him. You’re not family. You’re not even his girlfriend.”

“What am I supposed to do” she cried dropping the shirt she was holding to the floor.

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“Until he’s better and they allow visitors outside of family there isn’t much you can do.” He stroked her hair wishing there was something he could do to ease her pain.

“Except hope and pray” she mumbled against his shoulder.

“There’s plenty you can do around here” he suggested “we need all the help we can get with Zach.”

“Alright” she sniffed wiping her nose on the back of her hand.

“Use a kleenex” Bruce told her with a touch of humor.

“Sorry” she mumbled grabbing a Kleenex from the box on her nightstand.

***

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The next day she threw a box towards her brother where he lay on his back staring at the ceiling. “What’s this?” he asked inspecting it.

“What do you think it is?” she rolled her eyes starting to lose her patience with him. “I told you I was going to get you one. Now go take it.”

He stared at her a flicker of annoyance in his eyes. “I’ll do it later” he said laying it aside on his nightstand returning his gaze to the ceiling.

“No” she put her hands on her hips “you’ll do it now. You can’t pretend nothing is wrong.”

She hadn’t slept well and combined with her worry over Phoenix her patience was at an all time low. “Take the damn test Zach.”

He jumped at the sound of her voice. “I’m sorry” he mumbled automatically. Apologizing seemed to be what he did most now. It seemed he was always doing or saying something that required it. It was an automatic reflex to raised voices and perceived slights.

“Zach I’m not mad at you” she sighed trying to get a firm grip on her emotions.

“You are” he stood taking the test. He stumbled to the bathroom eyes focused on the floor.

“Alright I am” she affirmed “I’m sorry.”

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He nodded accepting her anger but not the apology. What else could he do? He closed the door behind him blotting out her face and words. Wondered what she’d do if he just said he took the test and didn’t? Several minutes later he took the damn test even though he already knew what the results would be. He’d been sick and nauseous for weeks now.

Minutes passed while sat slumped against the bathroom wall staring at the positive results. His ears were ringing as he wondered what his next move should be. He was going to be a father. Waylon was going to be a dad. He had to tell him. Would he be happy? Would he be like everyone else and assume the baby was Dexter’s?

He covered his face with his hands as an image from that night came to mind. Dexter knocking him to the dew drenched ground. The long grass concealing them from the casual viewer. Zach struggling beneath him getting in a few good hits. Dexter had been better at evading his fists than he had been. The punch that had Zach seeing stars, the weight of Dexter pinning him to the ground, the sloppy insistent kiss Dexter forced on him as his hands groped at his clothes. The sense of humiliation of what was about to happen. The helpless feeling he had at not being able to prevent it as Dexter’s hands slipped past the waist line of his jeans. The desperation that drove Zach to drive his elbow into Dexter’s nose. The blow that finally dislodged him allowing Zach to roll out from beneath him. He could still remember the way it felt as his fist connected with Dexter’s face, over and over again. Then the frightening moment when he thought he was going to die staring at the object Dexter had pulled from his jacket…..

“Zach are you alright in there?” Teasha’s voice broke through his daze ending the moment before he could remember what happened next.

***

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Vincent perched on the edge of his bed. His room was in the process of being painted. A half assembled baby crib stood where his stereo used to be. This time next year he’d be sleeping on the couch when he came home for the summer. What were his parents thinking? People their age shouldn’t be having babies.

When he said as much the hurt in his mother’s eyes reproached him. The disappointed tone his father used when they spoke had him regretting his ill chosen words.

Laying back on his bed closing his eyes he refused to believe he was jealous of a baby that wasn’t even born yet. He had wanted a little brother or sister for years. He didn’t want one now that he’d be almost twenty when it was born. He was old enough to be its father and his parents the grandparents. What were they thinking?

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He sat up wondering what his friends were doing. Teasha and Zach were out. He didn’t feel up to walking through an emotional minefield with them. Same with Divia. She spent most of her time at the hospital with her dad. He wondered about her sudden interest in her dad and the guilt she must be feeling. He had lived next door to the girl all of his life so he could only imagine what she must be going through right now.

He could call Ryan. He sat up pulling his phone out. Did he want to spend time with a guy who would do nothing but talk about his girlfriend? He was happy for the guy but he didn’t feel up to having his nose rubbed in it. Hannah? Not her either. She was just as bad as her cousin if not worse. She and Ryan were probably gloating together over their satisfactory love lives.

Feeling restless he ran up the stairs determined to find something to do other than feel sorry for himself. At times like this his thoughts always turned towards Trinity. He found himself wondering what she had wanted to tell him in the waiting room. When he had finally gotten to see the doctor she had been gone when he came out. He knew he had missed something important. After that he had gotten busy with writing term papers and studying for exams. She left soon after to see her mom in Monte Vista.

***

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“Where are you going son?” his father’s voice came from behind him.

“Out” he muttered. It sounded harsher than he meant it to. He was so tired of his parents hovering over him.

“When will you be back?” he asked.

Shrugging Vincent rolled his head from side to side. “When I get back” he replied evasively. “I’m not a baby. I can come and go as a I please.”

“For an adult you sure act like a child” Milo said.

Vincent squeezed his eyes tight. He could hear the gentle rebuke in his father’s voice. The disappointment as well as disapproval. Sighing he turned from the door. “I just have a lot of things to think about.”

Gesturing toward the table Milo asked “want to tell me about it?”

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Vincent hesitated before nodding “I don’t know what good it will do.”

“You’ll never know until you try” Milo said taking a chair and indicating for Vincent to sit down. Reluctantly his son moved to the proffered chair while Milo went to the fridge for drinks. Setting one in front of Vince he sat down opposite him. “What’s on your mind? I know you’re not happy about the baby. I have a feeling though that’s not the only thing wrong.”

Vincent stared at the soda in front of him. He reached for it. Popped it open. Took a several gulps hoping to stall long enough until his father lost interest. Setting it down he sighed “why aren’t I enough?”

Milo blinked sitting back tapping his finger tips on the table. “What gave you that idea? Your mother and I never meant for you to feel that way. We love you.”

Shaking his head Vincent could feel the same old frustration rising inside him. “No that’s not it. Yeah I was shocked, even jealous of the baby. It’s like I don’t belong here anymore.” He slapped his hand down on the old table they’ve had since before he was born. Milo got up for a cloth to wipe up the spilled soda from his overturned bottle.

“Your room” he said quietly.

“My room. That’s a laugh” Vincent crossed his arms pouting “it’s the baby’s nursery now. This time next year it’ll be full of baby things and I’ll be sleeping on the couch.”

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“Vincent” Milo’s voice was firm causing Vince to look up “you’re an adult. This time next year you could have a girlfriend. You could be planning to get married. You won’t be living here forever.”

Vincent stared vacantly at the smooth surface of the table. “I know it’s just….the only girl I want won’t give me the time of day.”

“Oh” Milo chuckled “now we’re getting somewhere.” He shook his head at the scowl his son was giving him. “Son if it were only the baby and the loss of your room I’d be worried we didn’t raise you right.”

Vincent slumped back in his chair with an air of defeat. “I’m sorry” he mumbled “I’ve been acting like a spoiled brat. I know you and mom don’t have a lot of money because of me…”

“Our financial problems aren’t your fault. The medical expenses were worth it. We chose to incur the expense because we wanted the best for you. We don’t regret it. We had to be frugal with what we had. We had to do without but not once have we regretted it.” He moved around the table “we would do it all again if we had to.”

“Thanks dad” Vincent looked up at his dad tears blurring his vision.

Over the next couple of hours he confided in his parents everything that had transpired while he was away at school.

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“Does she know how you feel about her?” His mom asked having joined them and moved them to the living room. She was curled up beside her husband on the couch.

Vincent shrugged from where he sat on the floor. “She told me from the start she wasn’t into relationships.”

“I think you’re missing something” Jillian persisted “she went out of her way to take care of you when you needed help.” She gave him a severe glare that said his drunken night out was going to come up again “she wanted to tell you something. I think it might be important and what you want to hear.”

“It’s too late” he whined “she’s in Monte Vista and I’m here. I’ll never know what it was.”

“Not with that attitude” she snapped “stop wallowing in self-pity and do something. If you want the girl figure something out.”

Figure something out. Easier said than done. He couldn’t just buy a plane ticket. He didn’t have the money and by the time he saved up enough school will have started. He could call but he couldn’t afford the long distance bill. Once again he could feel defeat pressing in around him.

Chapter 30 – Therapy / Chapter 32 – Missing You

Hannah – Chapter 9 – Monday

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Monday morning they stood outside the school staring up at its foreboding walls. Thanks to the events of less than a week ago they were two down. Zach was still recovering from his injuries and Divia was on her way to her first day in private school. “This is it,” Ryan said taking a foot forward “remember no one goes anywhere alone.”

They nodded. Ryan had always been their group leader even as children they had followed him. He had been the one to take charge no matter the situation. Sunday night they had come up with a strategy they hoped wouldn’t allow anyone to become vulnerable to attack. They would arrive together and leave together. No splitting up.

They stood staring up at the building they had once felt safe and secure in. Now they felt only a cold dread to once again walk within those halls. “Have you considered our proposal?” Kristen’s unwelcome voice asked from behind them. Hannah turned to face her. Her breath caught in her throat seeing Bull sneering at them from Kristen’s side. His arm snaked around her waist possessively.

Teasha snarled stepping forward as if she wanted to pounce on them. Hannah grabbed her arm pulling her back. Stepping between her friend and the other girl. Hannah glared at them then glanced back at her friends. Calmly she remarked “as you can see I’ve made my decision. My friends mean more to me than being a cheerleader. I have no desire to be a shallow Kristen shadow.”

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Kristen’s eyes narrowed for an instant before returning to normal “you won’t get another chance.”

“I’m actually ok with that,” Hannah told her “being a cheerleader would have enhanced who I am not define who I am.” She turned to Teasha wrapping an arm around her “I know who my real friends are.”

“You’ll regret this,” Kristen yelled after her.

“I doubt that,” Hannah called back without turning or stopping.

“Are you sure about this?” Teasha asked “you’ve wanted to be a cheerleader since middle school.”

“I’m positive,” Hannah assured her. She had lain in bed for countless hours considering her options. No matter how much she wanted to be a member of the squad she couldn’t sacrifice her friends. “Things change,” she said “cheerleading would have been fun but do you think I could cheer knowing what it had cost me? No I’m happy with my decision. They’re not my friends. My friends would never put me in a position to choose them over someone else. I couldn’t hurt you guys like that.”

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“Same here,” Ryan agreed “even if I could play I wouldn’t. Football isn’t that important to me anymore. I chose the team once over you guys. It won’t happen again.”

“You had no idea what was going on,” Vincent protested. He could see the guilt in his friends eyes as Ryan looked down at his feet. “Give yourself a break. You thought they were your friends,” Vincent put a hand on his shoulder giving it a reassuring squeeze.

“I was wrong,” Ryan mumbled shoving his hands into his pockets “I feel like such an idiot.”

“You’re being too hard on yourself,” Teasha seconded Vincent’s thoughts “your true friends will always be here for you.”

“I know” he sighed looking up at the door coming to a stand still “I’m not looking forward to this.” The others came to a stop beside him nodding.

Vincent was the first to move “let’s get this over with.” He squared his shoulders, lifted his chin and put his right foot forward. The others exchanged glances before following his example.

***

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Hannah and Ryan stopped beside their lockers while Vincent and Teasha went on to theirs. Hannah tried to keep her chin up and pretend the shocked curious looks didn’t matter. Her resolve started to falter as the unkind sneering looks raked over her and the not so whispered remarks that were said loud enough so she could hear them. The malicious spiteful looks from people she didn’t even know who had nothing but hate for her and her friends. Her hands started to shake making it impossible for her to enter her locker code. She wanted nothing more than to run from that place and never come back.

“Hey you can do this,” Ryan’s deep reassuring voice in her ear boosted her confidence.

Looking up with gratitude in her eyes “how do you do it?” she asked thinking he looked so calm and unruffled by everything.

Shrugging he gave a sketchy grin “just ignore it” he said slamming his locker shut.

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“Look who we have here, Ryan Milton football team captain.” Pretending shock the boy covered his mouth “oh I forgot ex-captain. He quit. Couldn’t take a couple of harmless tackles. You’re as much of a wuss as that queer friend of yours. I bet you two were more than friends.”

“Shut up Brannon,” Ryan growled turning around to face his ex-teammate.

“I bet you were more like friends with benefits. Tell us Ryan were you top or bottom?” the boy smiled as his comments earned him approving nods from others listening in the crowd. Pushing Ryan against the lockers Brannon stuck his face close to his “I’m glad you’re not on the team anymore. Football is for real men not for little girls.”

“Let him go,” Hannah demanded.

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“Or what?” the boy asked pressing harder on Ryan’s throat making him gurgle as his throat closed up. He grunted laughing “your such a pansy needing a little girl to protect you. I bet she fights better than you.”

The bell rang and the crowd of students started to drift away towards their respective classes. Ryan brought his hands up and shoved Brannon away from him. Gulping for air his ribs protested the movements as they fought against his bindings. Ignoring it all Ryan gasped “I’d rather be gay then be a bigot like you.”

“Yeah whatever,” the boy mumbled eyeing him waiting for an opening to attack again.

A teacher stuck his head outside his classroom “get to class,” he ordered them before going back inside to tend his students.

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Laughing Brannon took a step back. He gave Ryan one last nasty look “this isn’t over,” he turned away to presumably go to his first class.

Hannah reached for Ryan preventing him from pursuing Brannon “don’t” she pleaded afraid he’d get hurt even more than he already was.

“I can’t do this,” he mumbled kicking the locker in front of him.

“I sent a text to the others,” Hannah told him “they’re on their way.”

***

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While they were talking Vincent and Teasha came up beside them. They took one look at Ryan and started walking towards the exit. After a brief hesitation and an insistent tug on his arm Ryan followed. Breathing the crisp clear air he sighed “I’m sorry I lost my cool back there.”

“With reason,” Hannah told him “Brannon was asking for it but he knew you were in no condition to fight back otherwise he’d never have done it.”

Ryan rubbed his collar-bone wincing from the bruises Brannon had left behind.

Teasha looked at him with concern her blue eyes worried “he didn’t hurt you did he?”

“I’m fine” he felt a little self-conscious as she pulled his shirt down to inspect his injuries.

“Hold still,” she demanded as she ran her fingers lightly over his skin.

Shaking her hands off him Ryan walked away “I said I was fine,” his cheeks burning brightly.

Silently they followed him into the parking lot coming to a stop beside the car. “I take it we’re leaving,” Vincent stated.

Nodding “I can’t go back in there,” Ryan’s voice shook vibrating with emotion.

They piled into the car Vincent mumbled “maybe Divia’s parents weren’t wrong about sending her to a private school.”

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“Would you go if you had the chance?” Hannah asked turning in the front see to look at him. She wouldn’t be surprised if Vincent said yes. He had more brains the rest of them combined. A private school could probably offer him more than what he’d get in public school.

“I would if I could,” he sighed wistfully “it’ll never happen though. We just can’t afford it. My medical expenses and glasses make it impossible.”

“My dad’s would love to send me and Zach to another school,” Teasha added beside him “I heard them discussing it but they can’t afford it. Not with all the other kids and Zach’s hospital bills. It’s out of the question.”

Hannah nodded knowing it wouldn’t be a problem for either her parents or Ryan’s to send them to private school. “I won’t go unless you guys could come to,” she said coming to a decision turning to face the front “we’re in this together.”

“Yeah me too,” Ryan said from the driver’s seat “I just can’t do it today.”

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“I kind of feel like we’re the musketeers. All for one and one for all,” Hannah said fastening her seat belt.

“Where are we going?” Vincent asked as Ryan drove from the parking lot.

“I’m open to suggestions” Ryan said glancing in the rear view mirror.

“The park” Teasha suggested.

“The part it is then,” Ryan smiled relieved that they were leaving that hell hole behind them. He never wanted to go back if only it were that easy.

***

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Pointing towards the swings Hannah began to run “last one there’s a rotten egg.”

“No fair,” Teasha cried running after her “you started before us.”

Grabbing the chains of one of the swings Hannah giggled “I win.” Her eyes twinkled with merriment as she sat down demanding “push me.”

Vincent came up last panting “alright m’lady your wish is my command.”

Teasha watched them catching her breath. Sitting in the other empty swing she said “you sound like your eight instead of sixteen.”

“Right now I wish I was eight,” Hannah squealed as Vincent pushed her higher “it was better than.”

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They all nodded in agreement. Just about anything would be better than now. Teasha noticed the goofy grin on Ryan’s handsome face “I bet I know what your thinking” she teased.

“I bet you don’t,” he retorted sitting on the ground pulling at the green grass.

“It’s a girl,” Hannah said teasing him.

“Don’t” he mumbled feeling his cheeks flush.

“It is a girl,” Teasha giggled “he’s turning bright red.”

“I know who it is” Hannah giggled in delight.

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“Ryan and Charity sitting in a tree,” Teasha chanted kicking her legs to go higher as she began to swing.

“K-I-S-S-I-N-G” Vincent joined in on the fun earning himself a glare from his friend.

“You better stop or I’ll tell everyone who you like,” Ryan threatened his tone serious.

“You wouldn’t dare” Vincent gave him an uncertain stare.

“Oh do tell us,” Hannah pleaded.

“Yes do,” Teasha added.

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“What do I get in exchange if I tell you?” Ryan asked relieved that their attention had been diverted from him to Vincent.

“I’ll give you all the money in my pockets,” Hannah offered.

Shaking his head Ryan snorted “you never have money in your pockets.”

“How do you know I don’t?” she demanded sticking her bottom lip out pretending to pout.

“You never do,” he shook his head at her “you used to get me with that when we were kids or have you forgotten?”

“Then what do you want?” Hannah asked “I want a secret for a secret,” Ryan looked at Vincent who nodded back at him.

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“What do you want to know?” Teasha asked her smile slipping.

“I want to know who you like Teasha,” Ryan said with a mischievous grin.

Teasha turned to Hannah eyes pleading. Hannah shook her head firmly “you can keep your stupid old secret. We don’t want to know.”

Both Vincent and Teasha sighed in relief. “Ok have it your way,” Ryan shrugged “it would have changed your lives though.”

“I bet you don’t even know who Vincent likes,” Hannah said.

“Whatever makes you feel better,” Ryan said laying back in the grass. He closed his eyes enjoying the peaceful surroundings. His parents wouldn’t be pleased to know he skipped class but they’d understand.

***

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Later that night the parents gathered in Eddie’s living room. “I know we’re all concerned about our children’s safety and well-being,” Rory looked from one worried parent to another.

“I can’t tell Ryan he has to stay in school if he feels threatened,” Trent said telling them what happened at school that morning “he’s been hurt enough. I send my kids to school to learn not to collect bruises.”

Gayle nodded taking his hand squeezing it tight “I’m all for sending him to a private school.”

“For some of us that’s not an option,” Ramsey announced “I’d like to get them out of that place. We just don’t have the funds to do it.”

“We’re in the same boat as you,” Milo added.

Leaning into her husband Jillian said “with Vincent’s special glasses, follow-up eye exams and surgeries we barely make enough to cover our expenses now.”

Eddie stood to address the group. He swallowed feeling on display but he pressed on “I’ll understand if you say no but I want to make this offer,” he looked to Rory who nodded and waved for him to continue “it’s important to our kids that they stay together.” He sighed remembering how Hannah had a minor melt down when they had suggested the possibility of sending her to a private school. “Rory and I would like to offer to cover the fees for anyone who needs the help.”

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Bruce looked to Ramsey whose initial reaction was to refuse the offer. “Please,” Bruce pleaded “can we at least discuss it?”

Ramsey looked around the group of people who had become an extension to his family. As much as he disliked the idea of accepting what felt like charity to him the offer he knew was made from good intentions. “Alright we’ll discuss it,” he smiled at his husband who snuggled into him looking at him like he hung the moon. A look and feeling he’d never get tired of.

“Jillian and I will need time to discuss it as well,” Milo told them “we appreciate the offer but it’s an awful lot to ask of you.”

“We’re willing to do it no matter the cost,” Rory assured them “it’s important to Hannah and if it gets our kids out of an unsafe environment I’m all for it.”

“Gayle and I will help with the cost,” Trent offered to the astonishment of his wife “but I have one concern. If we do this aren’t we giving our kids the message that it’s ok to run from their problems?”

“I don’t see it like that,” Bruce shook his head “sometimes they need to know that their safety and well-being is the only thing that matters. We as parents are here to make sure they have that safety even if that means sending them to another school.”

Gayle turned to Trent “I know you want to treat Ryan like a man. Teach him to handle his problems but he’s not there yet. He’s still a kid, our kid. He shouldn’t have to worry about getting beat up for going to school or choosing to be friends with someone.”

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“I know but what if it’s no different in another school? We could be exchanging one problem for another,” Trent said addressing the group.

“It’s a chance we’re willing to take,” Rory said taking Eddie’s hand “we won’t be sending Hannah back to that school. We’ve already called and taken her out.”

Eddie nodded “it’s not like she’s learning anything there except how to be bullied. I commend all of our kids for standing up for themselves and each other. It takes a lot of courage to do that. Unless the school does something, which I don’t see happening the situation isn’t likely to improve.”

The other parent’s nodded “they seem to think the football team can do no wrong,” Jillian said “then you add in the other parents and we’re facing an insurmountable task.”

“The way I see it,” Ramsey spoke his voice low and furious “is we either put up with the unfair treatment or we do something about it.” He tried to smile reassuringly to his husband “we’ve already taken the twins out and we’ve discussed the idea of homeschooling them.”

“I’m going to call the school tomorrow,” Jillian said “Vincent won’t be going back either.”

They all turned to Trent and Gayle who slowly nodded “Ryan won’t go back either.” Gayle said looking towards Trent who nodded wrapping his arms around her “whatever’s best for the kids. Their safety is all that matters.”

Chapter 8 – No Way Out / Chapter 10 – A New Adventure

Hannah – Chapter 7 – Bad Day Part 3

 

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Teasha pulled into their parking space once she had dropped Vincent and Divia at home. She put a gentle hand on her brother’s shoulder. Fear furrowed her brows as he jerked from her light touch. He moaned in pain otherwise he didn’t move or acknowledge her. She bit her tongue to keep from screaming. Nodding she scrambled from the car. Ran the short distance from the car to the front door.

Her legs felt like rubber that had been super heated to the point it had lost its cohesion and shape. “Dad,” she yelled throwing the door open “come quick. Please Zach needs help” she gulped for air leaning weakly on the door frame.

Her dad’s looked up shock registering in their faces and eyes as they took in her appearance. Mascara smudged cheeks, puffy red eyes, chalky white complexion. “What happened,” Ramsey asked recovering first.

Bruce watched as Ramsey pulled their daughter into his arms. Shock took his breath away as he dropped down beside them “where’s your brother? Where’s Zachariah?”

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Three gulps of air Teasha managed “he’s hurt. Hurt bad daddy.” Upon hearing those words Ramsey let Bruce take Teasha from him. As he moved to get Zach he heard her say “daddy they beat him up. It’s … it’s terrible.” Ramsey digested those words as Bruce cradled her in his arms providing what little he comfort he could under the circumstances. Heart beating like a jack hammer Ramsey ran to her car.

He couldn’t remember the last time he had run so fast. He slowed as he neared the car. Opening the door Zach fell into his arms. “Zach, oh god Zach” he ran his hands through his son’s tangled blond hair he usually kept in a bun.

“Dad…dy,” Zach’s swollen lips moved but no further words came out. His eyes were swollen shut, his nose a bloody mess, bruises covered the majority of his body that he could see. Ramsey swallowed several times to keep the bile down as a wave of sickness swept over him upon seeing his child, his son in this condition.

“Shh,” he soothed cradling his son against his shoulder like he did when he was little and skinned a knee falling from his bike ” we’ll get you fixed up.” He gulped back tears as frustration and anger welled up inside him. Whoever did this was going to pay he thought as he carefully picked his son up.

 

***

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Time ticked slowly by as Teasha clung to her dad’s hands while they waited for someone to tell them about her brother. Was he alright? He had to be alright! She blinked back tears in the vain attempt to keep from sobbing. It was too still. Too silent. Even the nurses seemed to whisper and tiptoe past them as they went about their duties. Teasha wanted to scream, to listen to some heavy metal music or turn the TV on blasting the sound. Anything to block out her thoughts. If only she had stayed with Zach this morning instead of joining her friends. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled into the sea of silence.

“It’s not your fault,” Bruce told her wrapping an arm around her, squeezing her tight.

“I shouldn’t have left him,” she cried ignoring him.

“Why did you sweetie?” Ramsey asked more to let her talk than for anything else.

“I was joining my friends and….and…” she gulped looking up eyes wide, shocked “Dexter Gage was coming and I thought…” she stopped talking glancing at her hand, picking at her fingernails. She had giggled thinking that it was so cute that her brother had finally worked up the courage to tell his crush he liked him. It was so sweet ….

“You thought what?” Ramsey prodded. He had met Dexter multiple times at the house.

“Isn’t that the boy Zach has been tutoring in algebra so he could stay on the football team?” Bruce asked.

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Teasha nodded sniffling “yeah he’s the one.” She took a deep breath while she considered telling her parents about what she was beginning to suspect.

“Excuse me,” a deep voice interrupted them “I’m Dr. Krause. Are you Zachariah Ferris’s parents?”

“We are,” Ramsey confirmed as he and Bruce scrambled to their feet.

Glancing behind Ramsey’s shoulder the doctor smiled reassuringly towards Teasha before suggesting. “How about we talk over there?” he said leading the way.

Teasha watched from her seat as the doctor talked to her parents. They seemed to fold in upon themselves as they both put an arm around the other in an attempt to support each other under the burden of whatever bad news the doctor was giving them about their son. A lump formed in her throat making it impossible to swallow, cutting off her air. She knew she should have brought Zach here first instead of wasting time taking him home. Why didn’t she listen to Vincent when he suggested she take him to a doctor? Why did she listen to Zach’s pleas to go home? She should have known better.

Her parents turned and slowly came towards her. Their faces were pinched, lines she hadn’t noticed before were etched in furrows upon their faces. “How is he?” she demanded jumping to her feet. Her voice shook as she pleaded with whatever power that existed ‘please , please let Zach be alright.’ Instead of answering her they pulled her into a group hug and just held her, themselves, each other as the combined tears soaked each others shirts. “He’s dying isn’t he?” she choked unable to keep her fears inside.

“No no Sweetie no,” Bruce stammered holding her face between his palms I’m sorry if we scared you into thinking that. It’s just….”

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“It’s bad isn’t it? I know it’s bad,” she sniffed trying to keep her nose from running “dad never cries,” she said taking a tissue that Ramsey held out to her “he was crying just like we were.”

“Teasha,” Ramsey sighed “you’re right it is bad. Zach’s injuries are pretty severe. He….” his voice cracked as his throat worked but no sound came.

“Daddy,” Teasha cried reaching for his hand. “I want to see him,” she demanded suddenly.

“We can’t see him yet,” Bruce tried to pull her close but she pushed him away trying to run down the hall to the recovery room. She had to find her brother.

“I need to see him,” she screamed “he’s my brother. My twin. I have to see him.” Seeing Ramsey break down in front of everyone had broken something inside her. She couldn’t wait and do nothing.

“Teasha honey he’s in surgery,” Bruce told her keeping his voice calm. The same calm he remembered his own father having when he told him and his siblings their mom was going to die. “Zach has a splenic rupture. They won’t know how bad until they have a chance to get in their and see if they can fix it or not.”

Her face fell and her mouth fell open. Her eyes large “people die from ruptured spleens” she choked out.

“He’s not going to die,” Bruce told her firmly “do you hear me? He’s not going to die.” He held her gaze with his. She fell into his arms crying like a limp rag doll being tossed away.

***

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An hour later she sat stiff and unmoving between her parents, staring at the boring white walls with unfocused eyes. Her parents each had been allowed into Zach’s room for a few short minutes while she was forced to sit here alone and worry. She jerked in surprise as the emergency room doors opened and someone was reeled in on a gurney.

Watching remotely she observed the victim was a boy about her age with chocolate-brown hair in a yellow jersey just like …. those were the school colors. A football uniform. Teasha pushed herself to her feet. The paramedics turned the gurney in front of her. She gasped in shock “Ryan?” she cried. The tears she thought had dried up were once again flowing like a river down her cheeks.

He opened his eyes and attempted to smile at her “hey” he croaked in obvious pain as he winced.

Despite her protests the contrary paramedics took him through the doors for x-rays.

Ten minutes later Ryan’s parents came running through the emergency room doors. Panic and shock etched lines in their faces as they were told to have a seat in the waiting room. Trent sat heavily in a chair mumbling “it’s a been a hell of a day.”

“Language,” Gayle chastised him nodding towards Teasha.

Grunting he mumbled “sorry.”

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“How’s Zach?” Gayle inquired.

“He’s out of surgery,” Ramsey informed them “he’ll be in hospital for a few days possibly a week to make sure his spleen is healing.”

“That’s good news” her voice sounded relieved.

“What happened to Ryan?” Bruce asked sounding as if he didn’t want to hear anymore bad news.

“Football injury,” Trent said “he’ll be ok but he won’t be playing for the rest of the season.”

“That’s too bad,” Ramsey commiserated with him “he was the star player.”

“Yeah well accidents happen,” Trent shrugged.

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“Accidents?” Gayle nearly choked on the word “I don’t call being tackled to the ground by every boy on the team an accident. It was deliberate and I want to know why.”

Teasha stared at her. Could she be right? Gayle was usually so calm that it was shocking to see her so upset. “The football team did this on purpose?” she asked as all the day’s events seemed to click in her head.

Gayle nodded. Trent stared at her a moment asking “why? Does it matter?” He looked at her frightened face before continuing his voice a little gentler “why don’t you tell us what you think happened?”

“Today at school…it was…weird,” she shrugged lacking the right word to describe what she and the others had encountered that day. She took a deep breath before continuing “Hannah tried out for the cheer leading squad yesterday,” she told them deciding to start from the beginning in the hopes they would see the pattern she discovered. “She was unofficially told she made the squad yesterday but today her name wasn’t on the list.” She looked around at all the adults. Her gaze stopped on Trent “you can ask Ryan to confirm it since he was there yesterday as part of the selection committee.” She rubbed her hands along her sides. Everything that had happened today had one common factor, the football team.

“Bull, I mean Cale McCracken was also on the committee yesterday. He has a long-standing grudge against Ryan because the head cheerleader Kristen wants Ryan while Bull wants her. So he takes every opportunity to make life difficult for Ryan. Ryan’s been able to keep him under control until today.”

She looked at the floor gathering her thoughts “Bull likes to bully the nerds into doing his homework. Um” she paused feeling guilty about implying Vincent was a nerd “today he was roughing Vincent up in the hallway before lunch. He wanted Vinny to do his science project but Vincent refused per usual. Bull knocked his glasses off and smashed them.”

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Nodding Gayle said “I spoke with Jillian earlier today. She was complaining about how careless Vincent was with his expensive new glasses and how they couldn’t afford to replace them. I guess Vincent didn’t tell her what really happened.”

“That sounds like Vinny,” Teasha smiled she knew how much he hated attention especially if his parents got involved demanding Bull to apologize or pay for the damages. They all knew that would only make things worse. “Ryan had been able to keep Bull from giving Vincent too much trouble.” She moved restlessly as they all stared at her.

“At lunch we have a specific table we all sit and eat at. You know how clicky high school can be. Its unusual for jocks to sit with nerds and such. Everyone usually didn’t bother us though since we’ve been doing this since forever. Today though Divia was chased out of the lunch room by Kristen with a message for the rest of us that we had lost our table. You know how Divia is. She’s so shy and Kristen was really nasty and had her in tears.”

Growing tired of standing Teasha moved to sit between her parents again. “By that time I had found Zach pretty much in the same spot I had left him at this morning,” she shivered remembering that moment and how she had all but dragged him to their car. Swallowing she shook her head “Hannah sent me a text message to meet them there as they were all going to leave for the day. They all had to jump into my car because several members of the football team led by Bull was surrounding it. I didn’t know what else to do but leave.”

“You think the football team is responsible for Zach’s injures don’t you?” Ramsey asked.

Nodding she leaned over laying her head on her knees “I think Dexter set him up. I think he figured out Zach had a crush on him. I think Dex enlisted Bull’s help into discouraging Zach.”

“You might be right,” Ramsey said getting to his feet and pacing. Teasha watched him seeing the jerky movements that showed how upset he was. He turned, without a word stomped towards the exit doors.

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Bruce quickly stood and followed after him. “Ramsey where do you think you’re going?” he demanded catching up with him.

“To find that boy and shake the truth out of him,” he growled his fingers curling into fists.

Bruce gripped his husband’s arm firmly while he stared into his eyes. Slowly he nodded releasing his grip “alright,” he said letting him go “don’t do anything stupid,” he pleaded “I don’t want to have to bail you out of jail.”

Snorting Ramsey took a couple of swift steps back to him and swept him into his arms. “Don’t worry you won’t have too. I’ll ask Eddie to bail me out,” he gave Bruce his trademark mischievous grin “just be here for our boy. You know I’ve got to do this.”

Nodding Bruce threaded his hands behind Ramsey’s neck pulling him down. Their lips locked in mutual need to comfort, to reassure the other. “I love you,” Bruce murmured letting him go.

“The feeling is entirely mutual,” Ramsey assured him. He watched Bruce walk backwards towards the hospital doors before turning. He jumped the curb running towards his car. It was hard enough he thought to admit you’re not like everyone else without the object of your feelings betraying you. He was proud of his son and sickened by what happened to him.

***

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Ramsey sat in his car staring up at the house Dexter Gage called home. He had no recollection how he had gotten there. His mind drifted while driving. As if on automatic pilot he drove while he was preoccupied with everything that had happened in his children’s lives that and by extension the other kids he considered family. Scowling he looked up at the house. The Gage family obviously had money.

He got out of the car slamming the door shut behind him. The door opened an inch to his insistent knocking. “I need to talk to your son” he growled looking down at the older woman peeking out at him.

“He’s not home,” she snarled moving to shut the door in Ramsey’s face. He stuck his foot in the door preventing her from shutting it. Pushing hard he forced his way into the house yelling “Dexter get your ass out here.”

His furious voice carried through the house. The woman stood with her hands on her hips glaring up at him. “Get out” she shouted at him.

“Not until I talk to that boy of yours,” A head poked out of a door down the hall and he charged in that direction. “Dexter” he called outside the closed door “as much as I want to I’m not going to hurt you.” He sighed trying to calm his breathing “please I just want to know why you did it.”

The door opened a crack a soft frightened voice came through from the depths of the room “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to. Bull made me.”

Making his way into the room Ramsey found the boy curled into a fetal position on the floor crying. “Dex what happened? Why’d you do it?” his anger evaporating upon sight of the boy.

Hiccuping Dexter looked up flinching upon seeing his mother in the doorway “mama I’m sorry. I really did try but I…”

“You’re weak. Good for nothing. Screw up,” her face contorted in rage and disgust “you should be ashamed of yourself. Get out of my house and stay out.”

“But mama I’ll do better. I’ll try harder…I” he choked on his words and sobs wracked his body.

“Come on son,” Ramsey held a hand out to the boy “I think you should come with me so your mother can calm down.”

“She won’t calm down,” he muttered “she hates me.” He grabbed Ramsey’s hand accepting his help. “She told me to get out” waving at a couple of duffel bags on the floor “I packed a few things but I had nowhere to go.”

“You’ll come with me for now,” Ramsey told him finding he couldn’t leave knowing this was what the boy had to cope with. They moved towards the door where the woman still stood arms crossed.

“You can call his father. He’s like you. A faerie. That’s why I left him. Wouldn’t let the boy see him so he couldn’t turn him into one of your kind. I guess he’s just like him though.” She turned her back on them “get out and never come back.”

***

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After getting the boy and his bags situated in the car Ramsey glanced over at the huddled heap in the passenger seat beside him. Dexter turned eyeing him, his nose bright red, eyes puffy and swollen from crying. Ramsey couldn’t find it in him to yell at the boy. It felt too much like hitting a hurt puppy. Sighing he started the car.

As he was putting the car into gear Dexter’s hesitant voice broke the near silence “he said he wouldn’t tell. He said just have Zach meet you at a certain spot at school. I didn’t” his voice dissolved into sobs.

“Who?” Ramsey pressed the boy for more information.

“Bull,” he cried “he caught me and Zach kissing at the theater on Saturday night. He said if I didn’t do as he said then he’d tell my mom I was gay. I couldn’t face her finding out I” he gulped “you saw what she’s like.”

Ramsey felt his ire rising as he listened to the boy “so you set Zach up to save yourself.”

“I didn’t know Bull was going to beat him up,” he flinched expecting Ramsey to hit him “Zach’s alright isn’t he? I mean Bull didn’t hurt him that bad did he?”

“No he’s not alright,” Ramsey let his anger go swamping the inside of the car “he could have died because of you.” He wanted to say more but the incessant whimpering and sobbing was more than he could bear. It made sense why Zach had refused to say what happened. He was protecting the sniveling mess next to him even though as far as Ramsey was concerned Dexter wasn’t worth the cost his son paid.

Chapter 6 – Bad Day Part 2 / Chapter 8 – No Way Out

Eddie – Chapter 21 – Life Goes On

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“Get up,” Gayle shook Trent’s shoulder as he snored in response “I’m counting to five. If you’re not up so help me…”

“What?” he moaned “I just got to sleep.” He had been on the road for the past month. The band had finally started booking larger gigs in bigger venues. All he wanted to do was sleep. If it weren’t for the baby’s due date he would still be on the road. Due date? The words started a panic in his sleep deprived brain. “Baby” he shouted falling to the floor in his hast to untangle himself from the blankets he stole from Gayle.

Laughing despite the pain Gayle shook her head at her husband. “Are you alright?” she asked peering at him from the bed.

“Do I look alright?” he grumbled pulling his legs free from the blanket that had persisted to wrap around him.

“Get dressed” she gritted her teeth as a sharp contraction took her breath away.

Heart pounding he stared in a mixture of horror and wonder at the pain etched across her face. This was what they had been looking forward to for months. Now it was here he found himself wondering if he was ready.

“Don’t just stand there,” she panted “this baby is going to be born in the hospital if I have to drive myself.”

Her half-joking words broke through his stunned inactivity. He grabbed the clothes he had tossed on the floor the night before too tired to put them in the hamper. Clean or not this was what he was wearing he thought as he scooped Gayle in to his arms.

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“I can walk,” she told him through gritted teeth.

Ignoring her he carried her from the house and laid her in the backseat of his car. With fresh eyes he saw the debris left behind by his band mates after spending hours on the road. He should have taken the time to clean it out before he went to bed he realized.

“Snap out of it Trent,” Gayle demanded as the contraction passed “the baby won’t care if there are cans and chocolate wrappers on the floor.”

“Right,” he gave her a sheepish grin before he ran back into the house for Gayle’s carefully prepared bag. With a feeling he was forgetting something he locked the door behind him. It wasn’t until he tossed the bag into the passenger seat that he remembered where he left his car keys. Growling he leaned his forehead on the steering wheel.

“What’s wrong?” Gayle demanded from the backseat.

“Nothing” he told her ” he heard the anxious fear in her voice. The pain too as another contraction hit her. Glancing into the rear view mirror he watched as she writhed in pain. He had to get her to the hospital.

Popping the dash open he found the wires he needed to start the car. Smiling he imagined his parents glaring at him in disapproval as he used the skill he had developed as a teenager to take the neighbors cars for a ride. He thanked his lucky stars that he had an older car that he could still do this on. Chuckling to himself when the car roared to life. “Hold on babe we’ll be at the hospital in a couple of minutes,” he said as the squealed as they hit the pavement.

A few hours later he watched as his son was born. With shaking hands he held onto Gayle’s hand as the nurse laid their son on her chest. “He’s beautiful,” she breathed looking up at Trent “just like his daddy.”

“More like his mom” he held a finger out smiling as his son’s tiny fists wrapped around it. “Mommy and Daddy love you” he cooed.

Introducing Ryan Milton:

***

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Elyse glanced at the soundly sleeping man next to her. Half tempted to push him from the bed. Instead she stumbled to her feet staggered through the dark room yawning as she entered her daughter’s room. “Hey princess mommy’s here,” she soothed picking up the crying toddler. “You stink,” she wrinkled her nose in distaste.

It was hard to imagine how much her life had changed in the last couple of years. She was a mother of a normally quiet little girl. Frowning Elyse put a hand to the little girls forehead “you’re so hot princess”. Quickly changing the girl’s dirty diaper she noticed the rash that seemed to be spreading across her daughters skin.

Alarm coursed through her, running into the bedroom where Liono lay sleeping “wake up,” she yelled at him.

Moaning he squinted up at her “what?” he demanded.

“Your daughter is sick,” she told him panic making her voice shake “she had a temperature and she won’t stop crying. Something’s wrong.”

To her stunned shock Liono laid back in the bed covering his eyes with his arm “she’s fine,” he told her dismissing her concerns.

“No she’s not fine,” she cried “I’m taking her the ER.”

“Whatever,” he turned over burying his face in the pillow “your making a mountain out of a mole hill.”

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“How can you be so cavalier when it comes to your daughter?” she screamed at him causing Divia to whimper louder in her arms. “Aw honey I’m sorry. Daddy’s being a butt.”

“Don’t go filling her head with that shit,” he scowled at her sitting up in bed “I love her as much as you do.” Holding his arms out to take his daughter.

Hesitating a moment Elyse deposited the toddler in his arms. She knew what she had said hurt him but she couldn’t help it sometimes. He infuriated her so much with his lack of interest in everything but music.

“She’s fine” he said repeated standing up. Divia’s eyes drooping half asleep in his arms “nothing to worry about like I said.”

“Just because she’s not crying doesn’t mean everything is ok,” Elyse said taking her daughter into her arms.

Shrugging Liono crawled back into bed “do what you want. It doesn’t take a genius to know she has chicken pox.”

“Chicken pox” she said inspecting the dot’s covering her daughter’s skin “how can you know that?”

“Easy she was playing with Vincent over the weekend right?” Liono asked in a bored disinterested voice.

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“Yeah” Elyse confirmed “what does that have to do with my daughter’s illness?”

“Milo told me at band practice that “Vincent has chicken pox and Divia would probably get it too.”

“And you didn’t think I needed to know that?” Elsye asked rolling her eyes at the man relieved that she at least knew what was wrong. “I’m still taking her to see a doctor though.”

“Good idea,” he mumbled slipping off to sleep again.

“Amazing,” Elyse mumbled staring at the lump under the covers. Turning to the little girl in her arms “your daddy’s a butt.”

“Butt,” the girl repeated giggling.

“That’s right sweetie,” Elyse laughed knowing Liono wasn’t going to be pleased with her when Divia referred to him as butt instead of daddy. What did he expect when he showed so little interest in her?

Pulling into the driveway the following afternoon Elyse was relieved the doctor confirmed Divia had nothing worse than a case of the chicken pox. Liono had been right. Getting Divia from the car seat Elyse wondered what kept her with him. It’s not like they were married or even engaged. That was one thing they both shared in common, their disdain for the marriage institution. She need a piece paper to validate her relationship with Liono. She did however need a hint that he wanted her around. Some interest would be nice. she missed the days when he would buy her flowers just because or whisking her off to some romantic holiday. Their relationship had been hot and new then. After Divia was born she almost felt discarded like a piece of garbage.

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Opening the door she gasped in surprise. Rose petals were scattered on the floor their scent filling the room wafting up her nasal passages. The soft sounds of classical music came from the speakers. Liono was leaning casually against the wall an expectant look in his eyes as he watched her with an intensity she had all but forgotten. “I’m sorry” he told her talking a step forward “I know I’m not the easiest person to be around. I wanted to tell you I’m sorry.”

Looking around the Elyse felt tears sting her eyes as she nodded “I love you.”
The took a step towards each other like some old black and white movie they loved to watch together. “Butt” Divia announced loudly pointing at Liono give her dad a toothy grin.

“What did she say?” Lion asked his attention diverted to the little girl in her mother’s arms.

Putting the girl down Elyse pulled Liono into a passionate embrace. As their mouths sought each other they heard Divia’s voice repeating “butt” as she happily tugged on Liono’s pant’s leg.

“Did you teach her to call me that?” he asked holding onto the woman in his arms.

“Not exactly” she admitted “she’s heard me say it a million times.” Looking down “I guess it kind of stuck.”

Bending to pick his daughter up Liono said “I guess I have been acting like one.”

Giggling Divia touched her daddy’s nose saying happily “butt,” in a clear high-pitched voice.

Introducing Divia Marx:

***

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“Milo come quick,” Jillian called from the living room.

Dropping the dishes he was washing he ran into the living room. Heart pounding in his chest. Milo came to a stop beside her breathing hard “what’s wrong?”

“You just missed it,” she informed him sadly.

“Missed what?” he demanded looking at her in concern.

“Our little boy taking his first step,” she told him.

Milo resisted the urge to say ‘is that all’. He knew a baby’s first step was monumental but he thought Vincent had fallen from the couch or something breaking his head open. He still had nightmares of bringing his son into the emergency room that one time when he rolled off the couch. To this day he didn’t know who was crying more Vincent or him and Jillian. Turning to his wife mumbled “is that a good thing? Him walking.”

“Of course it is,” Jillian looked at him sharply “what make you think otherwise?”

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Shrugging Milo sighed “as clumsy as he is I shudder to think how many ER visits we’ll be making in the future.”

“Only you would find something negative to worry about,” she pouted crossing her arms.

Putting an arm around her he drew her close “I’m sorry but we’ve already taken him to the emergency room four times and he hasn’t even learned to walk yet. Walking is only going to increase the odds that he’ll hurt himself.”

Sighing she leaned her head on his shoulder “we can’t wrap him in bubble wrap.”

“I wonder,” Milo’s voice trailed off as his eyes followed his son around the room. Vincent seemed to grope for the blocks that were scattered on the floor in front of him. He’d pick one up finger it as if trying to see it through his fingers. Than he lean in close to the holes he was trying to fit the blocks into.

“You wonder what?” Jillian asked concern lacing her words as she followed his gaze.

“It’s just,” he swallowed dreading what he was about to say “I don’t think he can see.”

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“Of course he can don’t be ridiculous,” she protested watching her son with a deepening frown “what are we going to do?”

Wrapping her tightly in his arms “first we’re not going to panic. Second we’re going to take him in to see the doctor. Get his vision checked. It could be nothing’s wrong. He could just be clumsy.” His arms tightened around her “I’d feel better if we knew what’s going on.”

“You’re right,” she murmured kissing his neck “it’s just scary to think something’s wrong and we’ve missed it.”

“I know,” he said soothingly kissing her hairline “do you want me to make the appointment?”

“No I’ll do it,” she told him “I know you’re busy with rehearsals and stuff.”

“That’s all secondary to you and Vinny,” he told her.

Giving him a hint of a smile she squeezed his hand “good I’ll expect you to hold my hand during the appointment.”

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“I’ll be there every step of the way,” he assured her.

A week later they sat waiting for the doctor to discuss their son’s vision. They clinched each other’s hands as the Optometrist sat their son down on the floor next to an activity table. “Mr and Mrs Rake I’m Dr Hauser,” he held his hand out to them.

Taking it Milo murmured “it nice to meet you. How is our son?” he asked getting to the point.

Steepling his fingers the doctor observed the young parents sitting anxiously in front of him. “Your son has lost 40% of his vision. This would probably account for his lack of coordination.”

“So he needs glasses” Jillian asked watching her son playing on the floor.

“He will but I’m concerned with further degeneration of his eye sight,” the doctor gave Milo a pointed look “this degeneration could lead to blindness if we don’t do something about it.”

“Um” Milo licked his lips feeling light-headed and nauseous at the thought “what do you suggest we do?”

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“There’s a procedure we can do that could stop the degeneration from worsening. Saving what’s left of your son’s vision. Glasses would be able to correct the rest. Letting him lead a fairly normal life.” He went on to explain the details of the surgery, after care and possible side effects.

Stunned Milo and Jillian nodded as their eyes strayed to their little boy babbling happily to himself on the floor. Turning restlessly in her chair Jillian announced “I want a second opinion.”

“By all means Mrs Rake,” the doctor agreed “just don’t wait too long. Once his vision loss goes to 50% it becomes harder to stop the process.”

A month later they sat in their living room “we’ve seen five different specialists” Milo began cautiously “they’ve all told us the same thing.”

“I know,” she sighed “I’ll call Dr Hauser and set up the surgery.”

Squeezing her tight Milo listened to her breath in the near silent room “he’s going to be alright.”

“I know,” she agreed wishing it were possible to say something enough to make it come true.

Introducing Vincent Rake:

***

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“We need a bigger place,” Ramsey said closing the door to the kids room.

Taking his eyes from the view he loved Bruce sighed nodding in agreement. “I’ll start looking” he said despite the lack of enthusiasm in his voice.

“You don’t have to right this minute,” Ramsey said grabbing his husband’s arm and pulling him back to the couch “I know you like this place; especially the view.”

Nodding Bruce slipped his arms around Ramsey’s neck. His eyes fixed on the waterfall outside their window “do you think we could take it with us?”

“I could paint it for you,” Ramsey offered.

Rolling his eyes Bruce chuckled a little “you can’t paint.”

“Then I’ll ask your dad to paint a mural of it on our wall when find a place,” Ramsey told him without a trace of joking in his voice.

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“You really want to move don’t you?” Bruce asked staring into his husband’s eyes.

“It’s not that I want to,” Ramsey leaned forward to kiss Bruce softly on the lips “I hate the idea of packing all of our stuff up. My back aches just thinking about it.”

“Hey,” Bruce protested “you make it sound like I wouldn’t help.”

“Sorry babe,” Ramsey said contritely “I know you’ll help. I just mean I really hate moving. I kinda of gotten settled here.”

“Well we can always ask the others to help us. I know Eddie and Rory would help,” Bruce said.

“Maybe Gayle would be available to babysit all the kids too,” Ramsey nodded a mischievous glint in his eyes.

“Ramsey I know what you’re thinking,” Bruce said sliding from his lap.

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“What am I thinking?” Ramsey lifted an eyebrow challenging him.

“You’re playing matchmaker,” Bruce said sidestepping Ramsey’s attempts to pull him back onto his lap.

“There’s no harm in pointing them in the right direction,” he smiled “who knows maybe our kids will unite us all in one big happy family.”

“You’re an idiot,” Bruce laughed letting him wrestle him to the floor.

“Here I was thinking I was being romantic,” he leaned down pinning Bruce to the floor while Bruce tried to wriggle out from beneath “hey what do you think going?” he demanded after his attempted kiss landed on Bruce’s nose.

“Let me up,” Bruce pleaded sweating dotting his forehead “I don’t feel so good.”

Before Ramsey could react two little bundles of energy came flying at them. One landed on Ramsey’s back the other squarely on Bruce’s stomach making him go even paler than he was before. Scooping up both kids, one in each arm Ramsey watched as Bruce made a beeline to the bathroom. “Is daddy ok?” two little voices asked in unison.

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Staring transfixed at the closed bathroom door Ramsey had a sudden idea come to mind. Putting the twins down he took a step towards the door when it opened he asked “are you alright?”

“Yeah” came the shaky reply. Bruce looked outside towards the waterfall before saying “when we move we’ll need a place with at least 4 or 5 bedrooms.”

“Why so many?”

“Well you said next time it was my turn…” Bruce swallowed “I know we didn’t plan on having another baby so soon.”

“You’re pregnant,” Ramsey stepped forward gathering Bruce into his arms. Bruce nodded against his chest melting into his arms. “That’s why you weren’t more upset about moving.” Things started to fall into place like his unusual cravings, the increased appetite, the sudden vomiting. “I guess I get to experience the pregnancy from the other side this time.”

“You’re not mad?” Bruce asked looking up at him.

“Of course not,” Ramsey assured him. Turning to the kids who were not watching cartoons “guess what guys? You’re going to have a little brother or sister.”

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They looked at each other before the girl grinned asking “why?”

“Because your daddy is pregnant,” Ramsey told her.

He watched her blues eyes narrow in thought but it was her brother who asked “how?”

Chuckling under his breath Bruce said “that’s all yours.”

“Thanks a lot,” he mumbled “your dads love each other and that love made a baby.”

The twins looked at each other giggling as they got off the couch. Approaching their parents they demanded “we want to see the baby.”

Kneeling in front of them Bruce said “you have to wait until the baby’s finished growing inside my tummy before you can see them.”

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“Did we grow in there too?” came the next unexpected question.

“You sure did. Right here,” Ramsey rubbed his stomach.

Shaking her head “-” we’re too big.”

“You were a lot smaller than” Ramsey told her. They looked at each shrugged walking off already losing interest in something they didn’t understand.

When they were alone again Ramsey turned to Bruce “you said them, why?”

“Um” his hand absently rubbing his stomach “um the doctor said he heard multiple heart beats.”

“Multiple?” he asked feeling faint “twins?”

“If we’re lucky,” Bruce sighed “it could be triplets maybe even quads. I won’t know until my next appointment.”

Quads Ramsey could feel the blood rushing to his ears “we’re both getting fixed after this.”

Introducing Teasha and Zacheriah Ferris:

***

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Henry and Ria ran into the house stopping long enough to give their dad a quick hug before running to see their little sister. “I take it your parents are here,” Rory stated looking up from the computer here he was working on the lyrics for the bands new songs.

“I would assume so since the twins are here,” Eddie went to the door to find his parents unlocking their trunk “what’s all this?” he asked somewhat dismayed.

“Just some stuff for Hannah,” his mom replied standing up to give him a hug.

“Mostly stuff Ria has out grown,” Casey added.

Looking into the trunk Eddie said “most of this stuff is brand new dad.” Shaking his head “please don’t tell me you bought all this stuff. Hannah has more than she needs now.”

“It’s a grandparents prerogative to spoil their grandchildren,” Lynn told him.

“Yes but,” he turned pleading eyes on his dad “what about the twins? Aren’t they going to get jealous of all the attention their sister gets?”

“Not at all dear,” Lynn said unperturbed.

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Casey shook his head “son don’t argue with your mom. I’ve learned a long time ago it doesn’t pay.”

They lingered outside until Lynn went inside with multiple packages. “Dad this has to stop. I don’t want the twins becoming jealous of their sister. It’s bad enough they can’t live with us.”

“They’re not being deprived,” Casey assured him “once Lynn accepted them they’ve become as much hers as you did.”

“I just wish…”

“I know son but we both know why it isn’t possible. Amber’s lawyer’s will never let it happen. At least this way you still get to see them and be part of their lives. If they went to Amber’s parents we’d never see them.” Casey pulled his son close “I promise we’re doing all we can for them.”

“I know dad I’ve never doubted it. It’s just sometimes I feel like I’m being punished for what wasn’t even my fault.” Shaking his head he tried to push his feelings aside “if this is what I can expect on a random visit what will Christmas be like?”

“I’ll talk to her I promise,” Casey assured him.

“Dad let’s be honest here,” Eddie gave him a severe look “mom isn’t the only culprit here.”

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Cheeks flaming red Casey shook his head “no she’s not. Are you and Rory going to have anymore?”

A sad far way look overshadowed Eddie’s happiness “I don’t think so dad. The doctor’s warned me against having anymore children. Hannah was a difficult pregnancy and we’re lucky to have her. Any other pregnancies would be extremely high risk for both me and the baby. I won’t put Rory through that.”

“What about Rory? It doesn’t have to be you,” Casey suggested concern lacing his words.

Shaking his head Eddie replied “Rory can’t have kids dad. He doesn’t have the right equipment.”

“If you need money for the procedure I’ll be happy to loan it to you,” Casey offered.

“No dad. We considered it but the risks are to high,” Eddie looked towards the house then back at his dad “I appreciate the offer. We have Hannah and that’s all we need.”

After his parents left that evening Rory sat on the floor playing with Hannah “I think she’s going to be a musical prodigy. Listen to her play. She’s already picking out her own melody.”

“I think you’re biased,” Eddie told him with a smile.

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“I am but she’s my little girl,” Rory lifted into the air “she’s perfect just the way she is.”

Following Rory into Hannah’s room Eddie watched his husband put their daughter to bed.

“Good night princess,” they told her together before turning off the light.

Slipping his arms around Eddie “I suppose you’re parents brought up kids again?” Rory asked.

“They did,” Eddie sighed.

“If you want i could have the surgery,” Rory offered as they sat on the couch together “I know how much you’d like to have more kids.”

Shaking his head Eddie nuzzled his nose into Rory’s warm neck “I don’t need more kids. I have you and Hannah.”

“Are you sure?” Rory felt him nod against his chest “you know I’d do anything for you.”

“I know that. It’s still no reason for me to expect you too though” Eddie reached up stroking Rory’s hair “you know I like your hair like this.”

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“Are you saying you didn’t like my signature hat?” Rory asked in mock seriousness.

“I didn’t say that,” he protested knowing Rory was only teasing him.

“I was thinking we need a vacation a honeymoon….”

“A honeymoon?” Eddie said in surprise “we’ve been married for three years it’s a little late.”

“It’s never too late,” Rory said rolling him over onto the couch “I found the perfect resort. It even has a daycare we can take Hannah to.”

“It’s not much of a honeymoon if we’re taking the kid,” Eddie mumbled against Rory’s mouth.

“Shush,” Rory said kissing him “she’s the reason we didn’t go on a honeymoon in the first place. As I recall you barely got through the ceremony without getting sick.”

“Don’t remind me,” Eddie groaned “that’s what I get for not waiting until the wedding night.”

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“What can I say I’m irresistible,” Rory looked into his dark brown eyes and smiled “I really would do anything for you.”

“I know,” Eddie told him pulling him on top of him “I’d love to go to this resort with you.”

“Great,” Rory said moving to button Eddie’s shirt “first I think a little practice is in order.”

“You’re incorrigible” Eddie gasped a Rory’s hand slid inside his shirt caressing his skin.

“You love me anyway,” Rory said removing Eddie’s shirt and sliding his hand towards his waist.

“I’ll love you for always,” Eddie confirmed seeking Rory’s mouth sealing his words with a kiss.

Introducing Hannah Bennett:

 I’ll be opening up a request for sims to pair up with the next generation of kids so stay tuned for more information.

Chapter 20 – Three Little Words / Hannah – Chapter 1 – Honeymoon Part 1

Eddie – Chapter 20 -Three Little Words

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“Aren’t you moving a little fast?” Rory grumbled following Gayle into the kitchen.

“Don’t go all big brother on me,” she chided.

“He can’t help it,” Eddie smiled up at Rory as he handed him the dirty dishes “it’s just who he is.”

“You make it sound like a bad thing,” Rory muttered taking the dishes while his eyes followed Eddie.

Giving Gayle a hug Eddie said “congratulations. I’m so happy for you.” Turning to Rory he reached up to stroke his face “it’s not a bad thing. It’s one of the things I love about you.” He turned before Rory could respond or become uncomfortable.

Rory stared into the sink listening to the sound of Eddie’s laughter as Gayle instructed him to join Trent in the living room while she did the dishes. “You can join them,” she offered once Eddie had left the room.

Shaking his head Rory smiled at her “no I want to help…” He fell silent letting his hands soak in the hot dish water.

“Is something wrong?” Gayle asked as he stood there oblivious for several minutes.

Shaking his head as if waking from a daze “how do you know Trent’s the one?”

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“I love him,” she replied saying the three words Rory was so scared of with so much conviction that Rory envied her. Turning to face him she smiled “Rory I understand more then most why it’s so hard for you tell Eddie you love him. Your parents taught you to distrust love and those who said it.” Sighing she pushed him from the sink “I’m not my mother and neither are you. We can choose to be whoever and whatever we want. I choose to let Trent into my life. I know I might get hurt.” Looking up at him “I refuse to let that keep me from losing out on something wonderful.” She washed a few dishes while Rory stood there watching her deep in thought. “When Trent walks into the room my heart skips a beat and when he’s gone it’s like someone has taken the sun. I don’t know how to describe it but it’s something I don’t want to live without.”

“It’s like he chose me,” Rory mumbled in a low gravelly voice raw with emotion “from the moment I met him I knew he was different from anyone else I had dated before.” Laughter from the other room drifted to them “that’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.” Rory glanced at the floor feeling self-conscious something he hadn’t felt in a long time.

“You love him don’t you?” Gayle asked keeping her voice low and her eyes on the dish she was washing. As his silence lengthened she glanced up seeing him staring into space, cheeks a rosy pink. “Tell him” she squeezed his hand “don’t let your parent’s mistakes become yours. You’re better than that.”

***

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Bruce went to retrieve Ramsey’s wallet from the dresser to pay the pizza delivery guy. He was about to put it back when a small picture caught his eye. Pulling it out he felt his lungs tighten as he tried to breathe.

“Honey did you get the…” Ramsey’s voice drifted away catching sight of the picture Bruce was holding.

“Where did you get this?” he asked eyes riveted to the blond in the picture.

“We’ll talk about this later,” Ramsey told him taking the money from Bruce’s tightly clenched hand.

Bruce heard Ramsey as if from a long distance. His attention glued to the photo. The boy in the photo had been all smiles, eyes sparkling, happy. It had been so long since Bruce had felt as carefree as the person in the picture was. Was that why Ramsey carried that picture? A tear trickled down his cheek unnoticed. He jumped when a gentle touch wiped the tear away and he looked into the concerned eyes of the man he was living with. The man who had quickly become the center of his universe. Bruce turned away from him unable to bear him looking at him. He knew he wasn’t what Ramsey wanted or needed. All he was really was a burden with all his neediness.

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“Don’t do this,” Ramsey spoke softly trying to cover over the hurt he felt at Bruce’s rejection “don’t shut me out.”

“I’m not,” Bruce cried his voice loud almost angry. Sighing he ran a hand through is hair “at least I don’t want to.” He wiped at his eyes in an attempt to cover up the tears. The picture slipping from his fingers drifting to the floor.

Bending Ramsey retrieved the picture and replaced the photo in his wallet. “The pizza is getting cold,” he put a hand on the blonde’s shoulder “let’s go eat.”

Sniffling Bruce followed Ramsey into the kitchen. The pizza sitting on the counter waiting for them “you must be tired of always having to cater to me,” Bruce observed the undertone of anger still in his voice.

“Never” Ramsey replied taking Bruce’s hands leading him to the couch the pizza forgotten. “I want to take care of you. I want to be here for you when you’re having a difficult time coping with things. I want to be here for you, to help you even if that means I order pizza so that you having something to eat. Lord knows I can’t cook.” That last part brought a temporary smile to Bruce’s face.

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“What about you?” Bruce asked gazing into Ramsey’s eyes “I know you want more than I can give.” Bruce moved to get up gazing out the window towards the breath-taking view outside their apartment window. It was one of the things that drew him to this apartment when he and Ramsey were looking for a place together.

“What do you think I want from you?” Ramsey asked gently redirecting Bruce’s gaze back to him.

“I don’t…” he closed his eyes unable to take the look of concern in Ramsey’s eyes. Taking a deep breath he wanted nothing more than to pretend he didn’t know what Ramsey wanted. “To be a fully functioning adult,” he blurted holding his breath expecting Ramsey to offer some sort of argument disagreeing with him.

To his chagrin he found himself being drawn into a hug. Ramsey’s arms felt warm and safe around him. Several minutes passed in silence while they listened to each other breathe. Bruce’s breath tickled the sensitive skin along Ramsey’s neck moving his hair. “Do you really want to know what I want?” Ramsey asked the man he cradled in his arms.

Nodding Bruce pulled back swallowing the lump in his throat giving Ramsey a look like he was about to face a firing squad. “I” he began as his throat tightened choking him. This was it. Ramsey was going to break up with him. Move on with his life with someone who didn’t need so much.

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Stroking the blonde’s hair Ramsey gently pulled him close tenderly kissing his lips hoping his actions would be evidence enough that he meant what he was about to say. He pulled back when Bruce emitted a high-pitched mewling sound. He wanted nothing more than to hold the man he loved until all of his fears melted away. To kiss the bad dreams away. To snuggle with him until he was assured of his love for him. Abruptly Ramsey took his wallet out. Fished around for the picture that started all of this. Holding it out so that Bruce could see it “this is what I want.” The picture shook in his trembling fingers. His voice vibrated with all the repressed emotions pent-up inside him.

Bruce’s eyes were riveted to the picture Ramsey was holding. A young blonde. All smiles. Bruce couldn’t remember the last time he smiled like that. Moving his eyes from the picture he found Ramsey staring at him intensely. “I don’t,” licking his lips afraid of what Ramsey was going to say to him “I don’t understand.”

“This” indicating the picture he was carefully returning to his wallet “is what I want. I want to see you smile again. I want to see your eyes sparkle like they were in this picture. To hear you laugh.” Holding his partner’s face lovingly between his palms “I want to see you happy.” This time when he moved to kiss him he was met with the same fervor he had. The same need and desire.

Pulling apart breathing hard Ramsey gasped “I love you.” He noticed the flicker of doubt in the blue eyes he adored. Pulling Bruce close “I know you don’t believe me yet I can see it in your eyes. I’ve hurt you. I know that.” Kissing his hairline his voice low  and soft “I promise I’m going to prove this is real. I’m not going anywhere.” Stroking the blonde’s hair Ramsey sighed “this is where I belong. Right here with you by your side.”

Bruce felt like he could melt into the warm embrace of the man he adored and lost his heart to him for the second time. The month’s leading up to this moment already forgotten, a thing of the past “I love you. I’ve always loved you,” he murmured finding himself saying the words he thought he’d never be able to say again.

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“I don’t need you to say it,” Ramsey said brushing Bruce’s hair back “I haven’t earned it yet.”

“You don’t have to earn it when it’s freely given,” Bruce asserted snuggling into Ramsey’s arms “I love you and I’m sorry I didn’t say it sooner.”

Ramsey sighed peppering tender kisses all over Bruce’s face “there’s no need to apologize.”

Smiling up at his lover Bruce’s eyes held a hint of a sparkle “dad’s going to want that picture back. It’s one of his favorites of me.”

Shaking his head Ramsey chuckled a little “it’s ok he gave it to me.”

***

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Elyse gave Liono a piercing look “what are we doing here?” she asked the question as soon as she stood up from the taxi.

Liono smiled like the cat who ate the canary “do you remember what we discussed?” he asked taking her hand.

She took his hand, eyes shifting from his exuberant face to the house they were standing in front of. “You better not have done what I think you did.”

“What do you think I did?” he asked keeping his eyes fixed on hers.

“If I remember correctly I told you I’d consider living with you if you had a place of your own,” gesturing towards the house “I didn’t mean for you to go out and buy house.” Giving him a penetrating stare she asked “did you buy this house?”

“I did,” pulling on her hand he dragged her forward up the driveway and into the house. “Wait until you see the inside. You’ll love it.”

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Rolling her eyes she let him drag her into the house. It had the open floor plan she liked even if it were a little small. He turned to her expectantly when he had shown her everything. “Its nice” she admitted.

“What do you mean its nice?” he demanded “it’s better than nice.”

She could tell she had bruised his ego but she couldn’t just change her opinion because he wanted her to. Sighing she crossed her arms “the bedrooms are too small.”

“It’s a starter home,” he crossed his arms a wounded expression upon his face.

Touching his arm lightly she smiled up at him “you did ask what I thought of it. I’m telling you. It’s not what I imagined our first house would be like.”

“You did say you’d live with me if I had my own place,” his tone stubborn unreasonable.

Shaking her head laughing “I meant a place without Milo or Jillian. I didn’t think you’d go and buy house without me.”

“Does that mean you like it?” he asked his voice less resentful more hopeful.

“It’ll do,” she told him as he drew her close.

“Does that mean you’ll move in with me?” he asked his voice husky with desire.

“Yes” she smirked pressing her body into his as his lips crushed hers with desire. Separating for a moment she said “next time we buy a house we do it together.”

“Deal” he murmured leading her into the bedroom.

***

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Jillian cuddled into Milo on the couch “this is nice” she kissed his neck “we can do whatever we want whenever we want.”

“Mmm hmm” he said somewhat distracted eyes glued to the TV screen.

“You’re not even paying attention to me” she pointed scooting to the other end of the couch.

“What?” he asked tearing his eyes away from the screen “I’m sorry did you want something?”

Reaching for the remote she turned the TV off. She eyed him a moment half daring him to turn it on again. To her relief he didn’t. He only smiled at her as he closed the gap between them “you were saying something about being able to do whatever whenever we want, right?”

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She nodded as he leaned over her capturing her mouth with his in a passionate kiss that would have brought stars to anyone less grounded in reality than she was. As his lips continued to work their magic on her she ran her hands down his back letting her fingers linger on his waist slipping under his shirt. She felt his hands slide down her body to rest on her hips. Moaning she wanted this but she didn’t want to be distracted from what she needed to tell him. She put her hands up to his chest pushing him away from her.

“Hey what’s the big deal?” he asked running a hand through is long hair, confusion written all over his face. “I thought…” frowning he got up from the couch ” never mind it doesn’t matter.”

“Milo please come back” she entreated him.

It was on the tip of his tongue to demand why he should. He was so tired of her mood swings. One minute she was hot the next she was cold. One minute he couldn’t keep her hands off him the next she was pushing him away. Sighing he walked slowly back towards the couch “alright I’m here. Now what?” he couldn’t keep the irritation from his voice.

“I’m sorry” she gave him a contrite tearful look “I know I’m all over the place emotionally lately.” Taking a deep breath before continuing ” there’s something I need to tell you.”

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He gave her a sullen stare while a hundred different scenarios played out in his head all ending with her breaking up with him.

Biting her lip she blurted “I’m pregnant.” She looked down at her hands clasped tightly in her lap.

“What?” he gasped as if he didn’t understand what she just said as if maybe she was speaking another language.

“I’m pregnant,” she repeated.

The silence lingered between them. Unsure what he should do or say he reached for her hand “I guess we better start house hunting.”

“I guess we should,” she squeezed his hand a small smile playing across her lips.

***

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“Come on let’s go for a walk,” Rory suggested getting up from the blanket.

Groaning Eddie resisted his efforts to get him to move “I’m comfortable right here.”

“Come on you won’t regret it,” Rory held is hand out “please” he begged looking towards the horizon hoping he was timing this right.

Gazing up at Ramsey’s outstretched hand Eddie took it “alright you win.”

Smirking Rory put an arm around him as they began to walk along the shoreline. The sky turning colors as the sun began its slow descent in the sky. Stopping Rory turned to him the light casting a warm glow in his eyes. He reached a hand out to stroke Eddie’s cheek smiling when the blonde leaned into his caress. “I…I love you so much.” Rory gasped aloud shocking both of them with his admission. “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to say those words to you.”

“Rory you don’t have to…” Eddie began unable to disguise the smile spreading across his face in delight.

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“Shh I want to say this,” Rory broke in his voice deep with emotion “I should have said this a long time ago I let fear get in the way. For the longest time I thought love was a dirty word. A word used to manipulate people. A word used to inflict pain on others.” He took a deep breath “I realize now I’ve been running. Running away because I was afraid of getting hurt.” He knelt on one knee “you taught me what love is. What it can and should be. I don’t want to live my life without knowing love or having you by my side.” He took out a ring. Holding it up to Eddie’s stunned delight “will you marry me even though I might not say I love you as often as I should.” He slipped the ring on Eddie’s outstretched hand “I promise you that I will never stop trying to show you everyday we’re lucky enough to spend together, to the end of time how much I love you.”

“Yes, yes, yes I’ll marry you a thousand times over,” Eddie jumped into Rory’s arms wrapping his arms around him “you don’t have to tell me you love me when I can see it in your eyes. I feel it in the way you always make me feel safe. The endless hours you’ve spent on my couch just so I could sleep when you got none yourself. You’ve shown me there are more ways to say I love than merely saying the words.” Their mouth’s crashed together sealing their love in a hot sensuous kiss that left them both breathless. “Let’s go home,” Eddie suggested leaning against Rory “I need you tonight.”

Looking deep into the depths of Eddie’s brown eyes. He could sink within their depths and be happy “are you sure?” he asked cradling Eddie’s face between his hands.

“I’m positive” he turned placing a soft kiss on the inside of Rory’s hand “I want this. You.”

“Alright,” Rory nodded gently embracing him peppering Eddie’s face with soft tender kisses “let’s go home.”

Chapter 19 – Aftermath / Chapter 21 – Life Goes On

Eddie – Chapter 19 – Aftermath

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Amber crossed her legs hiking her skirt up a little higher. Catching the young blonde police officer’s leering gaze she smirked. “Like what you see?” she purred.

Clearing his throat loudly in the bare gray interrogation room he averted his eyes. She gave him an admiring wink leaning over the table “do I look like the kind of girl who needs to drug someone to sleep with them?”

Dumbly he shook his head mesmerized by her light innocent blue eyes. She ran her tongue along her lower lip as she kicked one shoe off. Moving for foot underneath the table until it nudged the officers knee “you and I could have a little fun while we wait…”

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“Err,” he swallowed watching her as if he had suddenly become a trapped frightened antelope facing a hungry lioness. He jumped as the door banged open and his partner joined them.

Looking from his skittish partner to the doe eyed girl the older man had no doubts what was happening. Jerking his head towards the door he barked “out.”

His young partner looked like he wanted to say something but visibly changed his mind slinking from the room. Once the door closed with a resounding thud behind him the older man glared down at the young woman in front of him. She reminded him of a slow loris he once read about, cute but deadly.

***

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Elyse attempted a smile to comfort her best friend since kindergarten. No matter what she came up with she couldn’t disguise her own bewilderment over what had happened. How had they been so blind?

“What did we miss?” Jillian asked as if picking up on her friends thoughts “we were best friends since we were five. The three musketeers. Why didn’t we see what kind of monster she had become?”

“I keep asking myself the same thing,” Elyse shook her head. She couldn’t help but wonder how things could have been different if they had been more observant. Maybe they could have gotten her help before things had gotten so bad.

“She was different since she went to college….” Jillian sighed getting up to pace around the room “if we had only done something when we noticed the change. If we had maybe Bruce wouldn’t have been hurt.”

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“It’s not our fault,” Elyse told her “we couldn’t have known what she was doing.”

Shivering Jillian turned sorrowful eyes on her friend “I know. It’s just … I can’t help but think of all the things that bothered us about her behavior and we glossed over it. Found excuses for it.”

“I know,” the dark-haired girl agreed “it’s always easy to look back and see all the things we missed. We can’t beat ourselves up over it. She was good at covering up her tracks.”

“I know we couldn’t have known,” Jillian wiped at her eyes sniffling a little “I just can’t get the image of all those guys out of my head.”

“Neither can I,” Elyse whispered hoping Liono and Milo would come soon.

***

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“Do you think it’s a good idea leaving him alone like this?” Milo asked glancing back at Bruce who was staring out the window. “It’s only been a couple of weeks since…” his voice faded unable to verbalize what almost happened right in their own apartment.

“He’s a big boy,” Liono shrugged “he doesn’t need us babysitting.”

“I know,” Milo sighed uncertain what to do. If he hadn’t agreed to the double date with Liono that night it could have been him in Bruce’s place. All he had to do was look in the mirror to confirm he fit Amber’s type. The news had been filled with pictures of all the other guys that had fallen victim to her wiles, at least the ones that had come forward. It made his stomach turn to think about it.

“It’s not your fault,” his friend told him his voice sounding harsh in his ear.

“Don’t you think I know that?” Milo growled jerking away from him. Sometimes Liono’s insensitivity got to him “have a heart he’s our friend.”

Putting his hands up “I’m sorry” Liono apologized “you know how I hate situations like this.”

“Yeah I know,” Milo sighed his friend would never change. Liono wanted to fix things and if he couldn’t fix it he ignored it. “I think we should stay…”

“Guys you know I can hear you right?” Bruce called from the window “just go. I’ll be alright.”

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“Are you sure?” Milo insisted knowing if he were Bruce he’d never want to be alone again.

“I’m sure,” Bruce tried to keep the fear he felt from making his voice quiver “I have to be alone sometime.”

“You heard him,” Liono said grabbing his arm and pulling him from the apartment.

“I don’t think he should be alone,” Milo yanked his arm away “it’s too soon.”

“Which is why I took the liberty of calling Ramsey,” Liono told him chuckling at the irritated shocked look Milo was giving him “I may be an insensitive ass but I do have a heart. He’s my friend too.”

“Shouldn’t we at least wait until Ramsey gets here?” Milo asked relieved that Liono had thought ahead and asked Ramsey to come over. Sometimes he forgot the guy could be relied upon in a pinch. He’d never leave a friend in need.

Leading Milo to the elevator “five, ten minutes tops. Bruce will be ok in that amount of time. He does need to learn to be alone.”

“I guess,” Milo sighed as he got into the elevator still feeling like he was abandoning his friend.

***

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The silence of the apartment became oppressive falling around him like a thick blanket. He hated this room as his mind conjured up half formed images of half remembered events. Turning from the window shivering from more than the chill in the room.

Turning his back on the view of the city behind him. He walked shakily to his room. All he wanted to do was curl up in a hole somewhere and cry. Maybe if he cried enough tears the pain would go away.

The sudden loud knock on the door sent his heart racing at a break neck pace. His mind jumping back in time to that fateful night he had opened the door to find Amber smiling up at him. Another knock had him scurrying into his room and squeezing himself into a tight ball on the floor. Covering his ears muttering “please go away. Please please go away.”

Using the key Liono had given him Ramsey let himself in when no one came to let him in. “Bruce” he called opening the door. Silence greeted him. Standing inside the kitchen he heard muffled sounds that seemed to be coming from a room off the living room. Going in that direction Ramsey kept his eyes open calling Bruce’s name as he entered the room. He stood listening to the cries that coalesced into tangible words.

“Go away,” Bruce mumbled over and over. His hands covering his ears as he rocked back and forth on the floor.

Dropping to his knees Ramsey sat awkwardly on the floor unsure what he should say or do. Mentally kicking himself for his oversight. He should have called first. Warned Bruce that he was coming over. He hadn’t meant to frighten him. “Bruce” he said his voice coming out in a low hoarse whisper.

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At the sound of his voice Bruce lowered his hands looking up “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

“Alright,” Ramsey said “we can go some place else.” He moved to get up wondering where they could go. A movie. A restaurant.

Grabbing Ramsey’s hand the blonde shook his head “please I…I don’t like it here. I want…I want….”

“What do you want?” Ramsey asked settling back down on the floor “we’ll do whatever you want.”

Bruce looked into the concerned eyes of his ex. With a small sigh he looked down at his hands in his lap. “I want to go home,” he murmured. Home where his siblings would welcome him back no questions asked. Home where his dad would tell him everything would be ok. He could rely upon his family to be there for him no matter what. He didn’t have that here. Ramsey had saved him that night but he didn’t want him. The only person he had was Eddie and Eddie had his own problems to deal with. He couldn’t dump all of this on him. “I have no one,” he whispered tears streaming down his cheeks.

“That’s not true,” Ramsey insisted moving closer to him “you have your friends, Eddie and” he swallowed afraid of the admission that almost slipped from his lips.

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“I don’t have you” Bruce cried too over wrought to keep his feelings in check. “It hurts too much to see you and know that you don’t want me. To know that I’ll always be eclipsed by Eddie. I can’t do it anymore. It tears me up inside. I just want to go home. Pick up the remnants of my sorry life.”

Ramsey stumbled to his feet feeling as if he had been sucker punched in the gut. Leaning against the wall he closed his eyes grimacing as if he were in physical pain. “You can’t go,” he pounded his fist into the wall “not now. Not when I’ve finally figured out what I want.” He turned to Bruce kneeling beside him he gently cupped the blonde’s face between his hands “I want you.” Licking his lips he peered into the other man’s blue eyes “I know I don’t deserve it but I’m asking no I’m begging for a second chance.”

Bruce wanted to melt into Ramsey’s arms and become lost in his concerned adoring eyes. This was everything he wanted yet it didn’t seem enough. “What about Eddie?” His mouth spoke the words aloud even though he didn’t want to know the answer. The answer that would make or break him “I can’t go through this again…I just can’t.”

Taking a deep breath Ramsey found himself saying “Eddie has Rory. I’ve known that for a long time. I didn’t want to accept it.” He leaned in closer until his lips brushed against the blonde’s. He inhaled deeply filling his senses with the man’s scent. “I love you.”

Before their lips connected Bruce pulled away looking deep into Ramsey’s eyes. He wanted to believe him. He wanted to be swept up in the moment. What was life without a little risk? He thought as he leaned forward allowing Ramsey to finish the kiss he started. He’d take that risk.

***

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Rory stretched trying to relieve the tight muscles in his neck and back. Eddie glanced over at him than just as quickly away. This had been going on for the past couple of weeks. Rory hung his head rubbing the back of his neck. The silence between them was growing insurmountable.

Sighing Rory broke the silence “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” He turned pleading eyes toward Eddie sitting on the other side of the couch. “Why can’t I say what you need me to say?”

Shaking his head Eddie got to his feet walking in circles like a restless animal. “What do you think I want you to say?”

“To say I love you,” Rory said his eyes fixed on Eddie as he paced.

“It doesn’t matter,” he muttered hugging his arms around himself.

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“It does,” Rory insisted “I’m sorry I’m defective. All my life my parents said they loved each other. I believed them. Then all these years later I find out I have a sister I never knew. All the times they said they loved each other were lies. They lied to me. Claiming they loved me. Saying they gave my sister away to protect me.”

Moving away from the window Eddie knelt beside Rory “that wasn’t love.” Reaching up he brushed back Rory’s hair loose now that he wasn’t wearing his hat.

“I don’t know what love is,” Rory mumbled staring at his feet refusing to look at Eddie.

“You do,” Eddie told him “you just don’t know it.” Crawling into Rory’s lap Eddie continued “you’ve been there for me and continue to be there me. I don’t know many people who would be that patient.”

“I even sleep on your lumpy old couch that’s too short for me,” Rory attempted to joke. He couldn’t believe this gentle timid man was still willing to put up with him. To put his heart on the line for him “I don’t ever want to be without you.” Rory said giving voice to his thoughts “I wasn’t whole until I met you.”

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“Neither was I,” Eddie said in a small voice “not that I’ll ever be completely whole…”

“Don’t say that,” Rory held his face between his hands “don’t ever say that. What Amber did to you wasn’t your fault. Your perfect the way you are. I’ll spend the rest of my life proving that to you.”

“Even when I jump at my own shadow?” he asked looking deep into Rory’s eyes seeking reassurance.

“Even then,” he nodded “although you probably won’t need it now that Amber is in jail for good.”

Eddie sighed in relief. All those unexplained occurrences of finding things moved around, curtains open when he knew he had closed them. The feeling of someone watching him. The slashed tires. The broken door. Amber confessed to doing all of them. A shiver ran through him as he realized how close she had been to him all along and he never knew it.

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Rory pulled him close “she can’t hurt you now. Not ever.”

“Why? Are you planning on sleeping on my couch forever?”

“Well I’d prefer not,” he watched as Eddie’s cheeks flamed “we have plenty of time for that. That’s not what I meant anyway.” He sighed realizing thanks to what happened to Bruce it seemed all of Eddie’s insecurities had resurfaced. “If you need me to sleep on your lumpy couch that’s what I’ll do.”

“No” he mumbled in a small hesitant voice. Looking up he took a deep breath “the bed’s big enough for two.”

 Chapter 18 – Consequences / Chapter 20 – Three Little Words